How Not to Advertise on Twitter

Twitter’s sponsored tweets and sponsored hashtags are cropping up more often as the social network places a heavy focus on advertising. As with any new advertising offering, we’ll learn how to use it effectively by watching the efforts of others. Advertising on a social network offers up opportunities for engagement that can’t be found elsewhere, but that opportunity comes with significant risk.

Sponsored hashtags can blow up in your face, they can be stolen by a competitor and they can be surrounded by risky UGC. But they can also very quickly achieve some great attention for your brand. Choosing to advertise on Twitter is a risky move, ripe with opportunity and danger. It shouldn’t be undertaken lightly or without serious thought.

Walgreens Can’t Buy Love

Walgreens recently purchased some love on Twitter, literally. In choosing the self-serving hashtag, #ILoveWalgreens, the company made a grievous error. They assumed love that wasn’t there.

People enjoy going out to eat, so they might love a favorite restaurant. Many enjoy shopping for clothes, so they might admit to loving a favorite designer or even a boutique store. People might even love their doctor or hairdresser, but very few people love fast food restaurants, grocery stores, plumbers or pharmacies. In these cases, you can’t buy love, but you can buy attention, and the two are different beasts.

The social media spend, designed to combat a very specific issue, was inappropriately broad and presumptive. A better case would have been to focus on the problem, that Walgreens could no longer accept Express Scripts, and choose a tag that supported their efforts there, like #freedominhealthcare or #yourscriptchoice and gave voice to a public who feels unheard and unloved when it comes to healthcare decisions.

Hulu’s Arrested Hashtag

Hulu is sponsoring a hashtag to promote their Superbowl commercial with Will Arnett. The hashtag, #mushymush, is in reference to their ongoing theme of alien world domination through excessive media intake.

While their hashtag is on point, it’s not a hashtag that is particularly interesting to their average fan. Hulu could have been more daring, and ended up with real traction had they chosen a hashtag that would really resonate with their viewers.

Because they chose an Arrested Development star, and dropped several references into the ad, they could have created buzz by pointing that out or even asking Arrested Development fans to count the number of references in the video. This, of course, would mean a heavy focus on the show and that may not be in the best interest of a big Superbowl spend. But there are many ways they could have jazzed this up, and stayed show-neutral. Hulu is staffed by a variety of cool and fun folks, as evidenced by the campaign itself. Creativity is important and #mushymush can’t have been the most interesting thing that came out of their advertising department.

They also did a poor job of communicating what they wanted. While they did get some high profile retweets, from Roku and Yahoo_Screen, many of the other dozen tweets are either done by Hulu themselves or by Hulu employees. If they asked their employees to share the video, which isn’t a bad thing at all, they should have also suggested sample copy. Their star even tweeted about it without using the hashtag, as did most of the folks who watched the video and shared it. There’s no call to action on their viral mechanism, the video. Why not end the video with the hashtag? I’m laughing, give me some instructions as to what I should do to share the funny with my friends.

Subway Offers Up a Footlong Hashtag

Photo credit Luca Falda

Unlike Hulu, who couldn’t get any attention on Twitter for their hashtag, Subway has gotten attention, but the wrong kind. Their main problem wasn’t in their choice of hashtag, it was that they didn’t gauge sentiment before they advertised on the social network.

From people angry that a $5 foot long really wasn’t $5, to employees who resent having to work at Subway, the hashtag is a busy one, rife with anger. To be fair to Subway, however, there is a solid amount of positive sentiment in their resulting tweets too.

They could decrease some of the negativity if they let Subway employees know that they are about to release a trending hashtag and ask for their support. They should also react in some way to the negatives, using Twitter. I would suggest reaching out to all of the negatives and thanking them for their feedback. Who knows, there could be some positive engagement with the brand to come from it, rather than just pulling the hashtag when the going gets tough.

The Takeaway

What we can learn here is that there is no easy ad spend. Whether you’re slapping a vinyl cling on your car to promote your housecleaning business or coordinating a multi-million dollar ad campaign for an international beverage maker, the details matter. Creativity grabs your attention, but it’s the practical details that ensure the brand is remembered and the call to action is acted upon.

Advertising on a social network is not different in this regard, but there are parts of this ad spend that are unique to the medium. Prepare your employees with detailed instructions that recommend appropriate behavior. Choose to align with existing sentiment, and don’t make it all about you. Do some preliminary insights gathering, and be prepared to shelve the entire thing if the risk outweighs the benefits.

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